December 11 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Home care for frail people across Suffolk could get a radical shake-up after a county-wide consultation over the next few months.
The county is also looking at how it provides community meals services from September next year.
At present it provides 219,000 hot meals to about 725 customers a year. The cost of the meals is £1.4 million, and the £5.50 cost of the meals brings in £1.2 million – meaning the cost to the council is just over £200,000 a year.
About half of the meals have to be put on plates for the customer, 35% require diabetic diets, and 15% need “modified texture diets.”
Dr Murray said the council would be looking at how these meals were delivered – for those who were able to cope it might be better to deliver frozen meals that could be microwaved when needed. The cost of those is £3.20 each.
However because an increasing number of customers were very frail, that might not be a solution for many of those requiring the service.
The existing contract runs out in March next year, and the cabinet is being recommended to extend this by six months while the future of the service is debated.
Dr Murray said: “Almost all our meals are delivered in the same way – one of the things to be considered will be whether they should be more tailored to the needs of our customers.”
Meanwhile the opposition Labour group said figures they had obtained from the county showed the number of meals on wheels had more than halved since prices were increased from £3.55 a meal to £5 a meal in 2011.
Opposition spokeswoman for adult and community services Sarah Adams urged people to have their say on the future of the service.
She said: “Suffolk County Council has a track record in not consulting on privatisation and I see no reason why this consultation should be any different.
“I urge all users to let the County Council know what they think, and support their Meals on Wheels provision, to ensure that private companies do not make a profit from the service.
“We know that as soon as services are privatised the quality is cut and the price goes up. These are worrying times for our older people.”
The county is to take a new look at how it provides care for an increasing number of people who need help in their own homes at a time when budgets are becoming tighter.
And this could mean more communities, especially in rural parts of the county, could be asked to take on more responsibilities helping to care for more frail residents.
A paper being taken to next week’s county council cabinet will herald the launch of a consultation into the provision of home care services and community meals (meals on wheels) that are provided by council funding.
The paper points out that at present the authority spends about £28 million on care packages for 4,500 people in their own homes – averaging just over £6,000 a year.
It warns that with an ageing population – and an increasing number of frail older people – demand for the services is likely to increase while budget pressures are likely to get much tighter.
Cabinet member for adult and community services Dr Alan Murray also said he was keen to ensure that care packages did not simply see clients as a statistic that needed to be dealt with in a fixed time.
He said: “We have to recognise that you can’t just deal with those needing care in a tick-box manner. That is particularly true in rural areas where it is much more difficult for carers to get from client to client.
“We need to have a dialogue with clients, their families, and members of the community generally to try to establish how people want the care to be delivered.”
He was keen to use community resources, especially in rural areas, although he accepted there was a great difference between looking in to check a neighbour was all right and carrying out what could be quite intimate caring duties.
Dr Murray added: “We don’t know if anything will emerge, but the consultation period will enable people to have their say and we could take any suggestions into account before we decide how to go forward.”
Jacqui Martin of Suffolk Family Carers welcomed the consultation period – and said there was already a scheme up and running in one part of the county that could operate as a template.
However she did warn it would require firm backing from the county – and a commitment to ensure support was always available when needed.
She said: “We will certainly be taking part in the consultation, there is certainly a need to look at the future of the services that are offered.
“There are good neighbour schemes across the county – I am part of the group in Harkstead and Lower Holbrook, but that is not the same as offering full care.”
Mrs Martin said a carers group had been formed in Wickham Market. Volunteers had been professionally trained to help look after frail members of the community and that was working well.
She said: “That has been a successful scheme, but it does depend on the commitment of the organisers, and of course of the volunteers.
“There is always the concern that if the coordinator moves on or gives up the scheme could fold so if we are to rely on this kind of scheme there would need to be some commitment to keep it going.”
She warned that the needs of people were greater than they had been in the past: “We are seeing people needing care at home who would have been treated in hospital 10 years ago – and that is something that needs to always be borne in mind when issues like this are being considered.”
If the cabinet approves the launch of the consultation period, the discussions will take place over the next few months and a new paper looking at the future of home care will be brought back to the council in the new year.